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Dr. Eric Lander. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

President Biden's pick for top government scientist will have to refrain from working on COVID vaccine matters until he divests as much as $1 million of stock in a company manufacturing one, the White House tells Axios.

Why it matters: Dr. Eric Lander also won't work on any other issues that could affect his sizable portfolio until he's fully divested, the White House said. That could take months, potentially handicapping a key administration hand at a crucial time.

What's new: In financial disclosure paperwork made public Monday, Lander, a renowned MIT geneticist nominated to lead the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, disclosed owning stock worth between $500,000 and $1 million in the company BioNTech.

  • The company is manufacturing a vaccine with Pfizer that was among the first two to receive emergency use authorization.
  • It was just one of scores of holdings in Lander's portfolio, which includes numerous other pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies.
  • Lander was the founder of the biopharmaceutical company Codiak Biosciences, and disclosed equity in the company worth between $5 million and $25 million. That company has also sought to develop a COVID vaccine.
  • A major Codiak investor, venture capital firm Flagship Pioneering, is run by the founder and chairman of COVID vaccine developer Moderna.

What they're saying: A White House spokesperson told Axios that Lander, who is working with the White House even as the Senate considers his nomination, is not participating in decisions that would constitute financial conflicts.

  • "Dr. Lander is recused from particular matters related to any stocks he holds pending divestiture, including any such matters related to COVID vaccines," a White House spokesperson told Axios.
  • Lander is currently advising the Office of Science and Technology Policy, the spokesperson said, and "is complying with all applicable ethics rules and appropriate recusals are in place pending divestiture."

The bottom line: Lander plans to divest his individual stock holdings if confirmed. But until he does, he'll be barred from participating in matters that could benefit BioNTech unless he receives a waiver of relevant ethics rules.

  • That divestment could take up to 90 days, Lander told federal ethics officials, and he's joining an administration working to roll out the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at a breakneck pace.

Go deeper

4 hours ago - World

In photos: Protests in U.S., across the world over Israeli–Palestinian conflict

A protest march in support of Palestinians near the Washington monument in Washington, D.C. on May 15. Photo: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images

Thousands of people rallied across the U.S. and the world Saturday following days of violence in Gaza and Israel that's killed at least 145 Palestinians, including 41 children, and eight Israelis, per AP.

The big picture: Most demonstrations were in support of Palestinians. There were tense scenes between pro-Israeli government protesters and pro-Palestinian demonstrators in Winnipeg, Canada, and Leipzig, Germany, but no arrests were made, CBS News and DW.com report.

Updated 12 hours ago - World

Biden in call with Netanyahu raises concerns about civilian casualties in Gaza

Photo: Ahmad Gharabli/Nicholas Kamm/Getty Images

President Biden spoke to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Saturday and raised concerns about civilian casualties in Gaza and the bombing of the building that housed AP and other media offices, according to Israeli officials.

The big picture: At least 140 Palestinians, including dozens of children, have been killed in Gaza since fighting between Israel and Hamas began Monday, according to Palestinian health officials. Nine people, including two children, have been killed by Hamas rockets in Israel.

Updated 12 hours ago - Politics & Policy

"Horrified": AP, Al Jazeera condemn Israel's bombing of their offices in Gaza

A ball of fire erupts from the Jalaa Tower as it is destroyed in an Israeli airstrike in Gaza. Photo: Majdi Fathi/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The Associated Press and Al Jazeera on Saturday condemned the Israeli airstrike that destroyed a high-rise building in Gaza that housed their and other media offices.

What they're saying: The White House, meanwhile, said it had "communicated directly to the Israelis that ensuring the safety and security of journalists and independent media is a paramount responsibility," according to press secretary Jen Psaki.